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Online Labor Markets: A Fruit-Fly for Social Scientists, Conudrum for Policy-Makers

Date & Time:
16:30:00 - 18:00:00,
Monday 23 September, 2013


In recent years, a number of fully global, online labor markets have emerged. In these markets, buyers hire workers from around the world to perform tasks amenable to remote completion, such as computer programming, data entry and graphic design. This talk will describe the important features of one such market, worth over $1 billion to date, explain several large-scale social scientific experiments conducted within that market, and conclude with a discussion on the policy issues raised by online work and online labor markets. One experiment involved introducing e-commerce style recommendations to a labor market, which had surprising effects on non-recommended candidates. Other experiments involved increasing the “cost” of online job applications to increase their signal value, and examining how market participants conceal their preferences for strategic reasons. The policy discussion will address concerns about downward wage pressure, abuse by unscrupulous employers and circumvention of existing labor protections, and consider the potential of online labor markets to contribute to global development via “virtual migration”.

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  • Name: John Horton
  • Affiliation: New York University
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  • Bio: John Horton is an economist and an Assistant Professor of Information Systems at NYU Stern. He received his PhD in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School in 2011. After completing his PhD, he served for 2 years as the Staff Economist for oDesk, an online labor market. At oDesk, he was responsible for the design and anaysis of experiments related to matching in the marketplace; he continues to serve the company as an adviser. His academic research focuses on the intersection of labor economics, market design and information systems. His work has appeared in Experimental Economics, Economic Letters, ACM-Electronic Commerce (ACM-EC) and ACM-Computer Support Cooperative Work (ACM-CSCW). The ACM-EC paper “The Labor Economics of Paid Crowdsourcing” is the most heavily cited paper published in ACM-EC in the last 5 years. He is the co-author of a chapter in the forthcoming volume by the NBER titled “The Economics of Digitization: An Agenda.”